At least 20 Indian soldiers have been killed after a violent confrontation with Chinese troops in the Himalayan region of Ladakh in the deadliest clash in nearly 50 years, with experts warning of a new geopolitical flashpoint in South Asia.
New Delhi blamed Beijing for Monday’s clash in Galwan Valley near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where the Chinese and Indian troops have been engaged in a standoff since early last month. The heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries have drawn international concerns, with the UN urging both sides “to exercise maximum restraint”.
The two sides previously fought a brief and bloody war over the demarcation of the border in the region in 1962. India’s External Affairs Ministry on Wednesday accused the Chinese side of attempting “to unilaterally change the status quo” in Galwan Valley – a key geostrategic junction in the Himalayan region where India is building a road to connect to an airstrip close to China.The Indian army in a statement said “the violent face-off took place” on Monday night during “the de-escalation process” in the Galwan Valley. It said there were casualties “on both sides”. China has not officially commented on the casualty figures on its side.
India said since early May thousands of Chinese troops have crossed to the Indian side of the LAC, the 3,488km (2,167-mile) de facto border between the two neighbours, at several places – Pangong Tso Lake, Galwan Valley and Demchok in Ladakh, and Nathu La in Sikkim – and built bunkers and brought armoured trucks and artillery.
Neither side has released a detailed account of Monday night’s fighting as both governments have shared little information with the media.
Indian officials, however, said no weapons were used in the clash, with soldiers engaged in brutal hand-to-hand fighting with clubs and staves about 4,270 metres (14,000 feet) above sea level amid sub-zero temperatures.
Outrage in India
The killing of Indian soldiers, including a colonel, has caused outrage in India with people calling on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boycott Chinese products.Beijing is India’s biggest trading partner, with annual bilateral trade worth $92bn.
On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party, questioned Modi’s silence on the biggest border tension in decades. “Enough is enough, we need to know what happened. How dare China kill our soldiers? How dare they take our land?” he wrote on Twitter.
Later on Wednesday, Modi assured that “the sacrifice of our jawans [soldiers] will not go in vain”. “For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important … India wants peace but it is capable to give a befitting reply if provoked,” said Modi’s statement carried by the local ANI news agency.
Meanwhile, in a sign of de-escalation, foreign ministers from both countries spoke via telephone and agreed to “cool down” tensions.
Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi spoke to his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on Wednesday and expressed his willingness for “a diplomatic solution” to the border crisis, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said Jaishankar also expressed his country’s desire to “peacefully resolve the border conflict and relieve regional tensions through dialogue”.